Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Does the Trinity and Rublevs Icon prioritise worship over mission?

trinityiconstylised200.jpg Does Rublev’s Icon encourage a church gathered in worship, rather than a church scattered in mission?

Such is my question as I prepare to speak on mission, including leading worship, amongst leaders of the Uniting churches of the South East on Saturday. It is the only speaking engagement I’m doing in the 3 months of sabbatical. I had said yes before the sabbatical option came up, so I felt it was a commitment I had to honour.

In preparation, I’m aware that the Sunday coming is Trinity Sunday. So the obvious place to go is to Trinity and mission. Here’s what I wrote in 2004.

At the heart of the Trinity is three persons – Father, Son and Spirit – in the giving of love. Love is shared between persons, in an unlimited, ever-spiraling flow of love. The church fathers used to call this perichoresis – the divine dance of love. It is a beautiful metaphor; fluid, whole-bodied, dynamic.

What makes this missional is that this dynamic, fluid, flowing love is shared with the world, in creation, in Christ, and in the activity of the Spirit. This flow of love refuses to remain self-centred.

When God breathes breath into humanity, created in the image of God, we see the relational love of the Trinity shared. Love is never self-indulgent. In Christ, the relational love of the Trinity is shared. The sharing is so radical, so complete, so life-giving, that one person of the Trinity will die for the Other. The affirmation that the Spirit is in our world reminds us that love is always calling us, always inviting us out of our circles, out of our understandings of community, out of our walls and set practices. In this sense the Trinity is missional,

Further, the Trinity offers us unity and diversity, one love shared between three distinct persons. This also guides our mission. The missional church will be an expression of the shared love of God. Equally the missional church will be locally distinctive, a unique, grounded expression of the God-head.

Thus talk about church and mission needs to be grounded in our understandings of God as Trinity. A “missional church” is not new, but a recovering of very ancient understandings, in which we live, we create, we emerge, as an outflow of the shared love of God. We seek to express fluid, whole-boided, dynamic love. We honour the unity with other expressions of church, we applaud diversity, we celebrate uniquely grounded differences.

I’m still happy with that, some 7 years on. But how to express such concepts – intellectual and theological in worship?

One option could be to invite them to draw in the beautiful sandy beaches around Robe, like here. Another could be to adapt the Rublevs Icon children’s talk, which I did with such positive feedback when I preached last year at Brighton Uniting on Trinity Sunday.

But it raises the question with which I began: Won’t contemplation of the icon simply leave me sitting at the table with Jesus? Doesn’t it encourage a church gathered in worship, rather than a church scattered in mission?

Posted by steve at 11:18 AM


  1. Hi Steve,
    Mindful of your last question…Look back into the scripture context Rublev was interpreting through his artist’s prayerful eye. ‘The Lord…three men’ come to visit Abraham, sit with him and tell him and Sarah that there will be a son to fulfil God’s promise given in Gen 12 to be a blessing to the nations. Is this icon in its broadest sense only about worship? Or is it also about resourcing for mission?

    While living in Central Asia we attended a Russian Orthodox Church that had this icon painted over the lintel of the door. As we walked in we took our place at the table with the Trinity. As we went ‘home’ we did so mindful of the table fellowship we share.

    I suspect a more urgent need is for us to think carefully about the purposes of worship – especially worship-in-community. But that’s a conversation for another day.

    Nga mihi nui/Warm regards

    Comment by Rosemary Dewerse — May 29, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

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  3. Thanks for this Steve. I have asked myself some questions re the icon and your concerns. Don’t we usually get up from the table at home and leave to go outside? We are not at the table for ever are we? Do we not have to be gathered at table for nourishment-energy-fun before we go away or scatter to our various places and responsibilities? These questions may apply to the family meal at home and the Sunday worship experience in congregations (“sitting at the table with Jesus”). Best wishes, John.

    Comment by John Littleton — May 29, 2012 @ 9:54 pm

  4. Steve, I have another question as I look at the Rublev’s icon. What happens next? I ask the same question when looking at Caravaggio’s painting The Supper at Emmaus (1602, Italy) What happens after this inspirational occasion? What do the two surprised disciples in the picture do next? What next? Regards, John.

    Comment by John Littleton — May 29, 2012 @ 10:22 pm

  5. you may be aware of Steve Seamands good book..deals with Trinity. leadership and missional..he devotes a whole section to this icon…pp 12ff here:

    Comment by dave wainscott — May 30, 2012 @ 3:17 pm

  6. Thanks Dave. A quick read it – can see lots about “communion”, but little about mission. Is that your point?


    Comment by steve — May 30, 2012 @ 5:36 pm

  7. The three look like they are dining ‘al fresco’ to me. Mission, food, eucharist, people, places, , market places, streets, cafes, outside, inside, conversation, relationships… all mixed up: ‘messy mission’.

    Comment by Chris — May 31, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

  8. that’s fascinating Chris. that must be why so many adelaide churches serve communion outside 🙂


    Comment by steve — May 31, 2012 @ 4:52 pm

  9. Unfortunately no, but we did quite a lot in Port Lincoln. A challenge to be church ‘al fresco’.

    Comment by Chris — May 31, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

  10. Hi Steve ~ at Cliff College listening to a fellow student giving her PhD presentation and this page on your blog is being referenced! … lovely that you are virtually here too 🙂

    Comment by Nel Shallow — June 15, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

  11. lol. say hello to the presenter from me. but if you do so, won’t you then disclose that you were surfing the net as well as listening 🙂


    Comment by steve — June 15, 2012 @ 9:30 pm

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